Winnie Mandela, ex-wife of Nelson Mandela, dies at 81

South African apartheid figure Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, pictured here at the African National Congress in 1990, died Monday at 81. UPI Photo/File

April 2 (UPI) — Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the wife of civil rights icon Nelson Mandela during South Africa’s apartheid struggle, died Monday, a family spokesman said. She was 81.

Madikizela-Mandela died in Johannesburg’s Milpark Hospital, where she was being treated for a kidney infection.

Herself an icon of the apartheid movement, she married activist Nelson Mandela in 1958. Her husband was arrested in 1963 and convicted on treason charges and was sentenced to life imprisonment. His release in 1990 was a sign of the end of white minority rule, which ultimately came in 1994 and his election as president, with Winnie Mandela serving as South Africa’s first lady.

While her husband was imprisoned, she campaigned visibly for his release and was placed under house arrest. She was also banished and imprisoned in solitary confinement for 18 months on terrorism and pro-communism charges.

She later was elected to South Africa’s Parliament, but her image was blemished by a series of scandals. The Mandelas separated in 1992 and were formally divorced in 1996.

“Mrs. Madikizela-Mandela was one of the greatest icons of the struggle against Apartheid. She fought valiantly against the Apartheid state and sacrificed her life for the freedom of the country,” a statement by the Mandela family said. “Her activism and resistance to Apartheid landed her in jail on numerous occasions…She kept the memory of her imprisoned husband Nelson Mandela alive during his years on Robben Island and helped give the Struggle for justice in South Africa one its most recognizable faces.

“She dedicated most of her adult life to the cause of the people and for this was known far and wide as the Mother of the Nation.”


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